THE APOLOGY at the Arcola Theatre
“an interesting perspective on an otherwise seemingly black and white story”
The Apology, directed by Ria Parry, follows the lives of three women, each involved in the attempt to uncover the truth about ‘comfort girls’ during World War Two. An estimated 200,000 girls were taken, by deception or force, from their villages in Japanese-occupied countries, and imprisoned as sex slaves throughout the war, sanctioned by the Japanese government. This isn’t a part of history I’m especially familiar with, so the story itself was fascinating and horrifying.
The pace is a bit sloppy, and I’d say it could do with a twenty-minute haircut, but given it’s based on very true events I can see how it would feel harsh not to give all the characters enough time to flesh out their stories.
As well as the historical narratives, both during the war and in the nineties when the UN began its investigations, writer Kyo Choi also includes a personal narrative about a man (Kwong Loke) who was, to his understanding, forced to recruit ‘comfort girls’, and how he continued to live with himself after the war. It’s an interesting perspective on an otherwise seemingly black and white story: this man was neither evil nor good, and it’s an important reminder that history is rarely so clean-cut.
Performances are strong across the board, and Choi has done well to include a little levity in a fairly bleak story, giving a generous emotional range to all the characters. Priyanka Silva, the UN lawyer, played by Sharan Phull, is cringingly earnest at times, but that rings fairly true for her character, and even she cracks a joke once in a while.
The only real issue I had with the performances- and I’m ready to be told I’m wrong about this- is the accents: the three modern-day Korean characters all speak with Korean accents, whereas the young girl playing the younger self of a former ‘comfort girl’, speaks in received pronunciation. It’s fine to cast accent-blind, but given that that’s not the case for any other characters, I find it quite jarring and distracting.
TK Hay’s set design is simple and elegant: Floor and walls are covered in orderly paperwork, seemingly signifying the beaurocracy and white tape involved in any official decisions or changes. But it also evokes a paper trail: evidence, waiting to be found.
Ultimately, it’s a compelling and important story, and although a little baggy, the content of The Apology carries it through when the execution itself feels a little too sentimental, or a little drawn out.
Reviewed on 27th September 2022
by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Ikin Yum
Previously reviewed at this venue: